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Estate Planning for Pets: Ensuring the Future Care of Animals

By Michael Gordon, Esquire

People love their pets, of course, but while states classify pets as property, to most pet owners, they are certainly not that. Pet owners view their pets as members of the family. And pets need to be provided for while they are here and people are able to take care of them—and when people are not here. Estate planning for pets does not have to be difficult. Headlines about large estates being left to pets, like the huge bequest that Leona Helmsley left to her Maltese, Trouble, and the future inheritance contemplated in Oprah Winfrey’s will, with $30 million bequeathed for the care of her dogs, can give a wrong impression. While those amounts are huge, the concept is prudent and applies to all who own and love their pets. It is essential for pet owners to make provisions for their pets’ care in case of death or disability, and the inability of people to properly care for their pets. There are four basic ways people provide for the future care of their pets. These are described below, in ascending order, in terms of effort, cost and level of assurance. The first two take no advantage of the law; the second two use the tools the law provides.

1. Leave It to Chance The first way, which ignores the law, is to simply assume that as pets typically have shorter lives than their human caretakers, there is no need to make plans. The problem is that real-life incidents happen. If a person becomes disabled or dies without a will, and no plans have been made, the future of the pet is uncertain. There may be no one who will take responsibility for the pet, or if someone does step up, he or she may not be well suited. Factors such as time and space limitations, housing restrictions, allergies, temperament, other pets and people in the home who are not so pet-friendly can create issues.

2. Verbal Agreements The second way to attempt to ensure the future care of the pet is through a verbal agreement. This method is certainly better than the first, and, if the agreement is with a family member or friend who the pet owner completely trusts to keep his or her word and provide the desired standard of care, a simple verbal agreement may be enough.

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The problem with this method is that situations can change. What may be acceptable today may be unacceptable or even impossible months or years later. Much can depend on factors beyond the control of either party. Sadly, shelters are full of beloved pets whose owners assumed or were promised that family members or friends would adopt their pets or find good homes for them. Statistics show that the majority of animals in shelters do not find new homes, and pets used to loving homes, and especially senior pets, fare especially poorly in shelters. Tacit or verbal agreements, despite the best intentions, often do not hold up when the time comes and a good home is needed. Methods three and four use the law to secure the future wellbeing of a pet. There are pros and cons associated with each method, but either is better than relying solely on assumptions or verbal agreements.

3. The Will A will is a legal document that disperses property. Provisions can therefore be made in a will for the future care of a pet. This can

The Virginia-Maryland-Washington DC Dog

The Virginia-Maryland-Washington DC Dog Magazine Winter 2016-17  

The Virginia-Maryland-Washington DC Dog is provided as a quarterly print magazine, as well as an extensively designed website www.vamddcdog....

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